Denver Broncos to cut QB Russell Wilson, incurring record cap hit after two tumultuous seasons

The Denver Broncos are officially parting ways with Russell Wilson, bringing an unceremonious end to the quarterback's tenure with the team just two years after the franchise made the seismic move to acquire the nine-time Pro Bowl selection.

The Broncos on Monday announced that they will release Wilson after the new league year begins next Wednesday.

The move will leave the Broncos with an NFL-record $85 million dead cap hit. Wilson, 35, was due to have his 2025 salary of $37 million become fully guaranteed on March 17. His 2024 salary of $39 million is already guaranteed.

"We spoke with Russell Wilson today to inform him of his release after the start of the league year," Broncos coach Sean Payton and general manager George Paton said in a joint statement. "On behalf of the Broncos, we thank Russell for his contributions and dedication to our team and community while wishing him the best as he continues his career.

"As we move forward, we are focused on building the strongest team possible for the 2024 season and beyond. We are excited to improve this offseason and will have the flexibility to get better through the draft and free agency."

Payton maintained earlier in the offseason that the team had not ruled out the possibility of a return for Wilson, who was benched for the final two games of the season. Speaking on Feb. 27 at the NFL scouting combine, Payton said he expected a resolution "within the next two weeks." Now, the split has been finalized.

Shortly after Wilson was benched, news followed that the Broncos approached the quarterback during the team's Week 9 bye about restructuring his contact and delaying the date at which point his injury guarantee for 2025 would become a full guarantee. Paton said in January the contract matter, on which the two sides never reached agreement, and Wilson's benching were unrelated.

In a statement posted to social media, Wilson thanked Broncos fans and his former teammates, but he made no mention of Payton or the coaching staff.

Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) watches as the closing seconds tick away during the second half against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) watches as the closing seconds tick away during the second half against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Denver acquired Wilson from the Seattle Seahawks in March 2022 for three players and a package of picks that included two first-round selections and two second-round choices. That September, he signed a five-year, $245 million extension with the team.

At the time of his arrival, Wilson was seen as a transformational figure for a franchise that had not had a winning campaign since 2016, one season after a team helmed by Peyton Manning won Super Bowl 50. From 2016-21, the Broncos started 11 different quarterbacks, tied for the most in the NFL during that span.

Instead, things quickly went south. Despite first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett tailoring his offensive approach to Wilson's liking, the quarterback set career lows in passer rating (84.4), completion percentage (60.5%) and touchdown passes (16). Hackett was fired after a 51-14 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Christmas, and the Broncos finished 5-12.

Payton was hired the following offseason and set expectations high when he told USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell before training camp, "I’m going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team." He also sparked controversy in that exclusive interview when he said Hackett, who became offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, and the previous staff were responsible for "one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL." Payton later said he regretted the comments, which included additional critiques of the Jets as well as Broncos leadership.

The Broncos stumbled to a 1-5 start, which included a 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Though Denver regrouped to win its next five games, the team was unable to push into the playoffs. Its eight-year postseason drought is second only to the New York Jets (13).

Despite his tumultuous run and end to the season, Wilson held he was not looking to leave.

"I've got more fire than ever, honestly, especially over the past two years of what I've gone through,'' Wilson said on the "I Am Athlete" podcast posted Feb. 25. "Whether it's in Denver or somewhere else, I hope it's in Denver, I hope I get to finish there. I committed there, I wanted to be there. I want to be there.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russell Wilson cut by Denver Broncos, who take record salary cap hit